Space Ramblings

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Damage

Synopsis: Enterprise tries to recover from its pounding by stealing a warp coil. The Xindi Council bickers and T’Pol has to learn to ‘just say no’.

Review: The damage in the title of this episode refers to both the physical damage we can see in the tears and devastation on the Enterprise hull and the moral damage sustained by Archer and members of his crew over the term of the Xindi mission. It’s an episode that lingers over the damage Archer, T’Pol and even the Xindi see in themselves as much as it does over the lightless and beaten interiors of Enterprise itself.

Damage star trek enterpriseThe scene of the Xindi council calling off the attack early on dampens far too much of the tension too quickly, as it might have been much more helpful to keep the audience wondering why the Xindi called off the attack and whether they might return for a while. Still, “Damage” does a credible job of showing the beating Enterprise has taken and closes as it began with a devastated ship not healed by any quick fix or technobabble solution.

While STAR TREK, particularly on TV, will never top the sense of devastation Enterprise experienced after Khan’s attack, crystallized in the awful image of Scotty standing helplessly in the turbolift with a bloody body cradled in his arms, “Damage” provides some excellent… well, damage. The exploding EPS conduit over the heads of the senior officers followed by debris raining down during the briefing is a particularly nice touch; Archer looking over the covered bodies in sickbay is a more understated moment, but arguably a more effective one that hardens both his determination and pain.

The truly inspired touch, though, is the damaged alien vessel with the warp coil that Enterprise must raid in order to stop the Xindi weapon. Unlike DS9’s much-hyped “In The Pale Moonlight,” Archer faces a genuinely impossible moral dilemma because circumstances give him no choice but to carry out an immoral act against innocent victims. This puts it closer to the depth of great TOS episodes like “A Private Little War,” that require an immoral act for a pragmatic outcome.

When Archer’s team raids the alien vessel, it visually suggests the raids on Enterprise in “Anomaly” and “Rajiin,” and thus the victims become the victimizers, as happens all too often today. Archer’s final confrontation with the alien captain is brief but effective. Throughout the course of an agonizing year Archer has gone from being naive and arrogantly optimistic to a hard-driven and wounded man who acts not out of hope but pragmatism. The scientist and explorer has become the unwilling soldier.

All in all “Damage” effectively shows the price Enterprise has paid and the way in which Archer and the crew respond to it. However the other two stories circling around the episode, namely T’Pol Gone Wild and the Xindi council debating Archer’s claims, are a good deal weaker. The Xindi Council scenes in general to tend to deflate too much of the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere that makes for the episode’s strongest scenes. Brannon Braga and Rick Berman should have learned from George Lucas’s THE PHANTOM MENACE, which demonstrated that political bickering in government offices doesn’t make for the best drama. Worse yet, the Xindi Council scenes represent exactly what much of “Damage” avoids, easy and quick fixes.

The Xindi Council members moving from genocide to freeing Archer and letting Enterprise go is just too implausible. Degra argues that Archer had provided proof where the Sphere Builder has not, but that is even more absurd; Archer did not prove his claims about the sphere-builders or their ambitions. All he did was prove that he might have access to time travel, which the Xindi already know the Sphere-Builders do. Archer did nothing to demonstrate or prove humanity’s good intentions and at the same time it’s also completely implausible that Degra and the others would be so committed to wiping out humanity without a single shred of evidence that Earth presented a threat, but just on the word of the Sphere-Builder.

Randy Oglesby continues to deliver strong performances as Degra and Tucker Smallwood is quite good too. The Sphere-Builder from the future pacing through the Xindi Council is eerie, even if her performance is so transparently malevolent that it’s absurd that anyone would take her claims seriously. Compare that to the more subtle female shapeshifter on DS9 who didn’t have to act like she was about to bake Hansel and Gretel in a giant oven to convey the presence of evil.

T’Pol’s story is something else entirely. Namely an exercise in contemptible stupidity and unforiveable ignorance. We had good reason to believe that sooner or later TPTB would tie in something involving the anomalies and Trellium-D to T’Pol’s bizarre behavior in order to get them off the hook with the STAR TREK fans Braga derides as ‘Continuity Pornographers.’

But it was difficult to imagine a storyline in which we are told that Vulcans need to take drugs in order to experience emotions when in fact Vulcans experience emotions far more intense than humans–the very reason that requires them to maintain such strict control. The idea that a Vulcan needs to take drugs to experience emotions is as insane as saying that a weightlifter needs to take drugs in order to be able to put down barbells rather than to lift them up. The difficulty is in suppressing emotions, the emotions Vulcans experience all the time and must continually struggle to control using their mental disciplines. Trellium-D degrades those disciplines but those disciplines are a voluntary
exerciseto begin with. It simply makes absolutely no sense at all.

Of all the aspects of STAR TREK, Vulcans have taken the worst beating from ENTERPRISE, first being cast as villains plotting to obstruct our heroes, as militarists, as prudes, metaphorical homophobes, mind rapists and just about any nasty thing imaginable. But T’Pol’s portrayal this season has really hit a whole new low. It is, of course, difficult to top the repulsive depiction of T’Pol in “Bounty,” running through the halls half-undressed in a mating frenzy and having to be hunted down by Enterprise security teams, but season three has certainly been working up to it.

The bonus sexism of a woman being left in command on a ship while becoming unfocused and then hysterical, only to be relieved by the male Captain is yet another of ENTERPRISE’s thoughtful additions to the STAR TREK legacy that we will undoubtedly treasure for years to come. Somewhere Harlan Ellison, who has spent countless hours over the past few decades shrilly complaining because Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t let him portray a crew members as drug users and dealers is undoubtedly quite happy right now. Perhaps next season we can look forwards to Trip tripping out on E or Archer on crack? After all, we’ve now opened the door and we might as well step all the way through.

“Damage” is strongest when it focuses on the moral and physical dilemmas of the Enterprise crew, rather than the more soap operatic elements. Unfortunately, along with the physical and emotional damage to the Enterprise and its crew, the episode suffers from its own damage as well.

Next week: There are only 5 new episodes left. Count em, that’s 5 new episodes.

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